As work continues on A Thousand Blows – a TV drama set in a fictionalised 1880s East London boxing world, starring a character loosely based on boxer Hezekiah Moscow aka Ching Hook – I have cause to occasionally pop Moscow’s name/s into the British Newspaper Archive and see if anything new has appeared since my original 2019-20 research blogs.
In the past month the BNA has digitised and made available copies of Thomson’s Weekly News dating from 1902 to 1933. This Scottish newspaper employed former champion boxer Dick Burge as a boxing columnist for a time, and his 1910 articles harking back to the 1890s give a wonderful insight into this period and the men he knew and fought.
One brief paragraph in which Burge recounts his memories of Moscow makes a particularly interesting read.
In Part II of my Moscow blog series I presented a number of theories about where Moscow might have disappeared to when he dropped off the radar in 1892. After more than a decade boxing in London and a new wife and baby at home, he left without a trace. Might he have died and remained unfound or unidentified? Or had the man who enigmatically listed his occupation simply as ‘Traveller’ in the 1891 census done a moonlight flit for a new life in another city or country?
Evidence appeared later which seemed to confirm that he left London for New York, supporting my original theory that he’d done so based on the timing of Ellis Island opening just weeks earlier and his apparent acquaintance with Frank Craig, a black New York boxer who came to London in 1894. Another boxer said they’d seen Moscow over there, with one report saying he was working as a dock guard, and another saying he was half-starved and friendless.
But why? That’s what I struggle to understand. He’d recently toured with a theatrical show, performing in some sort of well-received boxing burlesque. He appears to have been respected, had managed training gyms, and was still regularly doing half-decently in the ring. Did he leave for love? His career? Or something else?
This is what Dick Burge has to say in the Thomson’s column, in a section on his memories of Bill Richardson’s boxing pub, the Blue Anchor:
“There I boxed Ching Hook, the black man. He was a fine fighter but I was too much for him. I shall never forget how he took his pummelling until he could stand it no longer and then he stopped and cried in the ring like a child.
“Defeat at the hands of a youngster was a sad blow for him. I was sorry for the poor fellow and I often wish I knew what became of him. He went off to America after his defeat, and we have never heard a word of him to this day.”
So according to Burge, it seems Moscow (then aged about 30) was so embarrassed about being beaten by a rookie that he couldn’t face his peers in the East End again. Hmm. I’m not sure such a blow to one’s pride would prompt anyone to leave their wife and infant daughter without a word, but it wouldn’t be the first time the reasoning of man made no sense to me.
We have to take Burge’s claims with a pinch of salt – he’s going to be blowing his own trumpet in his own boxing column. But as a contributory factor in Moscow’s disappearance, it seems at first look to be a strong one.
However, Burge was only about four years younger than Moscow and had made his boxing debut in 1887, which doesn’t to me quite fit with the suggestion that Moscow left for America because he had been beaten by a “youngster” in 1891 or ‘92. Burge would have been about 27 in 1892 and a champion with 5 years’ ring experience.
Further, Bill Richardson was dead by 1892 and in the few years before Moscow’s disappearance, the Blue Anchor had been run by Tom Symonds. Burge specifically refers in his column to Richardson’s Blue Anchor. So his dates are confused.
Burge became a well-known name as lightweight champion, notoriously fighting the much bigger heavyweight champion Jem Smith in 1895. He retired from the ring in 1900, served hard time for his involvement in bank fraud, and in 1910 founded The Ring venue on Blackfriars Road with his wife Bella. He enlisted in the First Surrey Rifles in 1915 and The Ring’s ‘boxing matinees’ continued in aid of the Red Cross throughout the war. Burge died in 1918 from ‘double pneumonia’ at the age of 53.
The fight with Moscow at the Blue Anchor, which one would have assumed was more than a ‘friendly’ spar given Moscow’s supposed reaction to losing, did not appear in Burge’s obituaries and is not listed on his BoxRec profile. I have not managed to find any sign of it occurring in 1891 or 1892. This does not necessarily mean that it didn’t, I just haven’t found any newspaper coverage to indicate that it did. A 12-year veteran like Moscow breaking down in tears after being battered seems like the sort of thing the Sporting Life would have enjoyed.
For now, I’m going to put this one down to Burge’s brain being frazzled by 7 years in prison, unless evidence appears to the contrary…